The IRS seized certain property of a corporation that was determined to be the alter ego of a delinquent taxpayer. Government agents seized automobiles registered in the corporation’s name, acting without warrants, on public streets, parking lots, and other open places. They also went to the defendant’s office, a cottage-type building, and made a warrantless forced entry. Pending further information as to whether the cottage was an office or a residence, the agents made no initial seizures. However, two days later they again entered the cottage without a warrant and seized books, records, and other property.
1. Whether the seizure of the defendant’s property in public was reasonable?
2. Whether the warrantless intrusion into corporate property was reasonable?
1. Yes. The Fourth Amendment was not violated by the warrantless seizures of the corporation’s automobiles, since the seizures took place on public streets, parking lots, or other open places, and did not involve any invasion of privacy.
2. No. The warrantless entry into the corporation’s business office constituted an unconstitutional intrusion into privacy that violated the Fourth Amendment.
The Court held the warrantless automobile seizures, which occurred in public streets, parking lots, or other open areas, involved no invasion of privacy and were constitutional. The property was validly subject to seizure and securing the property in public did not invoke any further privacy interest of the defendant’s. However, the warrantless entry into the privacy of the defendant’s office violated the Fourth Amendment, since “except in certain carefully defined classes of cases, a search of private property without proper consent is ‘unreasonable’ unless it has been authorized by a valid search warrant.” The Fourth Amendment protects business premises, and corporations enjoy Fourth Amendment protections.
429 U.S. 338, 97 S. Ct. 619 (1977)